There’s a danger, particularly in cities, of homogeneous churches forming within social networks where the subconscious message is “this church is for the fit or fine, weaklings are not welcome.”
Ebeneezer Erskine’s advice to several believers takes both “weak” believers and “strong” to the heart of what it means to live under grace. Erskine gives anyone whose grasp of grace is weak guidance on how to view themselves and others. It occurred to me as I read this that some “strong” churches, filled with the fit and fine, might actually be mixing personality, ability and grace as the basis of membership or acceptance. [Note: Erskine describes weak believers as cups and the strong as flagons]:
I next offer a word of advice unto the vessels of cups, I mean weak believers. Although you are not to envy or grudge at God’s bounty or liberality to others, in making them vessels of flagons, yet you may and ought earnestly to covet more grace than you have yet received ; and therefore we are commanded to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” …Be frequently coming to the Manager of the house for more grace: “To whom coming, as unto a living stone,—ye also, as living stones, are built up,” etc. Improve all the means of God’s appointment for your edification, such as, the word, sacraments, prayer, Christian conference…
A word to the vessels of flagons, believers of a higher stature. To you I would say,
1st, Be not proud of grace received, but walk humbly with your God. Who made thee to differ? And what hast thou that thou hast not received ? …True grace, where it is genuine, the more a man receives of it, he is always the more humble and empty, as you see in Paul, Eph. 3v8 “Less than the least of all saints.”
2dly, Instead of despising others that are not come your length, study to be helpful and serviceable unto them. The vessels of’ cups are ordinarily filled out of the flagons ; so study to impart and communicate of your grace, of your faith, love, hope, knowledge, and other graces, unto those that are weak in grace. The strong children in a family are helpful to the young and weak. Thus it is in the natural body, the strong member is helpful unto the weak and infirm ; so ought it to be in the mystical body of Christ.
3rdly, Whatever grace you have received, be not strong or confident therein, like Peter; but be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and let the life yo live be by faith in the Son of God.
I’ve always wanted to see myself as a strong believer and have tended to relate that belief to my actions. I thought that I said or did bold things for Christ then I must have strong faith. But this thinking mixes personality, works and grace. If we are truly saved by grace alone then the way anyone comes across to others is not relevant as a basis of acceptance [Romans 1:16-17]. If I think of myself as strong in faith in Christ, then I must treat weaker vessels with great respect and encouragement [Romans 14:1ff]. There’s been times, when my blustering around in ministry is really a sign of a weakened grasp of God’s grace.